Saturday, September 22, 2007
Book Review: "The Way of Jesus"
I come to recognize publishers that publish books interesting to me, specifically with titles of spiritual and religious topics. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company of Michigan, USA and Cambridge, United Kingdom is one such publisher. A friend loaned me the book titled, “The Way of Jesus,” I am happy to recommend this anonymous work after reading it. I admit I may have found myself overlooking the title if it had not been brought to my attention. This is a book helpful in knowing Christ and living the Christian life.
The book was originally discovered in Germany in 1516 under the title “Theologia Germanica,” published by Martin Luther. A contemporary style helps with understanding the work, it was translated into the contemporary English by Tony D’Souza, who lives in London, England. The writing contains a certain charm without being difficult to the 21st Century American reader; hence the editing is successful if only containing a whiff of plainness and kind of simplicity. This may be to its credit, after reading the entire book and looking back on it.
You guess this is a mystical work, probably, and you guess right. Written in short segments, one may read it on a daily basis finding time to reflect on each chapter. I read it straight through, so to speak, not reading it as a devotional, but as an instructive and illuminating work on Christ and my relationship and understanding of him in my life. Fortunately, I found this satisfying and illuminating. The work is an illuminating book, 140 pages and introduces itself on the cover as, “a contemporary edition of a spiritual classic.” Tony D’Souza is noted as “editor,” by the way. Just to be clear on the matter and give proper credit to him.
From the start, the book offers evidence and instruction: “…[O]ur knowledge of God should become so perfect that we see that none of our gifts or will, love or good works come from ourselves but that they all come from God, from whom all good proceeds.” Perhaps you as reader of this review say, “How obvious.” But I recall a situation where I confused my own sense of smallness before God instead of his largeness; instead my posture required an attitude of humility that accepts and acknowledges His goodness and greatness. This is not so large an error, or far from a way to humility, yet to get on a better path to the Way of Jesus this book is helpful in sorting out relationship and truths. There is discernment on its pages.
Again, in the same line, as the author says early in the book, “…[I]t is better that God should be loved, praised, and honored even if we vainly imagine that we love or praise God. This is preferable to God being left unloved, unpraised, and unhonored, because when the vain imagination turns into understanding of truth, then claiming anything for our own will fall away naturally…’Poor fool that I was, I imagined it was me, but all the time it was God.’” Simple, yes, but clarifying and also helpful in bringing the reader to an insight to Christ’s significant and special relationship with mankind (womankind, too, of course.)
It is by degrees and example, by various dictums the writer lets us know something of perspective: “Four Things Are Necessary Before a Person Can Receive Divine Truth and Become Possessed by the Spirit of God.”
Possessed by the spirit of God? I ask, and I wonder. This statement about divine truth is novel to my ears, as are discussions of evil personified by the Devil. Yet as a reviewer I urge you to buy the book to read on and persevere; the reader will find this endeavor of a book both entertaining and also written so that its certain realities are recognizable in our century. Reading a classic work does take some leaps and jumps, especially when written almost 500 years ago.
Christ says blessed are the poor. He means material poverty, and that is common knowledge. But he also says, blessed are the poor in spirit, and the author who is imparting “knowledge,” or a way of knowing, ends a chapter with the promise of his teachings: “Out of this grows that poverty of spirit of which Christ said…” One gets the firm intention of learning something about spiritual poverty by this work, and thereby a humility. To this end, the chapter headings are like aphorisms, such as the chapter just noted: “There is a Deep and True Humility and Poverty of Spirit in a Person Who Shares in the Divinity of God.” I thought these a kind of Zen Koan. But slightly so. More a puzzle made statement than an exercise in special construction. Yet the book is that, too, in its own way. There you have a sense of the way mystery is constructed by the modern edition, I guess the modern language is true to the original since a noteworthy publisher publishes the book. Here is another “aphorism”, clearer and less puzzling, but a puzzle: “What Sin Is, and How We Must Not Claim Any Good thing for Ourselves, because All Good Belongs to the True Good Alone.”
I was glad to find this book title available through Amazon.com, for I tried searching on it (the title), but could not find the book. I tried a search on the editor, Tony D’Souza, and found the book on Amazon.com. This particular copy, which was loaned to me, was purchased at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, California (USA) where my friend said she found it by browsing.
I am happy she thought it suited my interests and tastes, and also that I would appreciate something that takes a desire for a special religious flavor of instruction. My Deacon friend practices contemplation in the morning, and knowing my own interest in contemplative prayer is correct in her recognition that contemplatives will find the book, “The Way of Jesus,” helpful in living a Christian life. That is a lot to say about a book, but I am sure if you’ve gotten this far in this review, you have an interest that will make this a work beneficial to your own life, contemplative in leaning or not. This is also a book for the active life in Christ, for it clarifies and instructs on understanding this historic person and God. A helpful book in living a Christian life.
--Peter Menkin, Pentecost 2007
This amateur review of mine appears on Amazon.com.